Rob and Rahm

If you instantly recognize the names Rob Ford and Rahm Emanuel, this post is for you.

The mayors of Toronto and Chicago could not be more different, right?

One, previously unknown outside his own metro area, became an overnight internet sensation last year when he admitted smoking crack cocaine.

The other, a former congressman and White House chief of staff, was already widely known before winning election as the first Jewish mayor of the 3rd largest city in the U.S.

Even if you think you know these guys, Esquire’s got a great pair of political profiles of Toronto’s Rob Ford and Chicago’s Rahm Emanuel.


Toronto’s Rob Ford

Ford’s beefy stature and manic style recall the late great comic Chris Farley, but he’s not one to be underestimated. Ford is the consummate retail politician – the kind of guy who puts his home number out there and works the phones relentlessly trying to cut through the bureaucracy for his constituents.

It might surprise you – as it did me – to know that Toronto is made up of six previously separate municipal entities, meaning the central city and five suburban communities, are now a single megacity. Ford hails from one of these suburbs, where the politics are more conservative than downtown, and as such he gives voice to the white working class as well as to many of the Asian immigrants who’ve moved to the outer edges of Canada’s second largest city.


Chicago’s Rahm Emanuel

Emanuel, on the other hand, is the personification of smooth political operator, a fitness fanatic whose weight is said to fluctuate between149 and 150 pounds (yes, you read that right). The self-discipline he brings to exercise is identical to that which he brings to politics, working 7 days a week, from dawn to dusk, and running the Windy City in the same old-fashioned, bare-knuckles way as his predecessor, Richard M. Daley.

Ford is up for re-election this fall, Emanuel not until next year. With his fundraising prowess and brilliant political skills, Rahm has got to be a shoo-in, despite currently high disapproval ratings. Anywhere else but Toronto, Rob would be road kill. But don’t be surprised if he wins another term.

Two favorite passages from these profiles:

First, from Chris Jones:

Here we come to the lasting political lesson of the mayor and his improbable survival: shamelessness. It is his greatest gift. Shame, or the fear of it, confines most politicians—most human beings—within certain boundaries of behavior. The mayor does not abide. His shamelessness allows him to say things like “I can assure people, hopefully it won’t happen again” with a straight face, but more important, it has allowed him to resist the unfathomable pressures that have been on him to quit. When public people disappear in the wake of scandal, it’s often because they can’t stand to have become the objects of our scorn, or worse, our ridicule. Their most basic self-preservation instincts drive them into hiding like dying cats, where they can lament their poor choices with a civilian’s private regret. The mayor’s not built like that. “I just block it out,” he says. “I know when I go outside at least half the people are going to support me, maybe more. I also know I’m going to get called names. I know that. Why even acknowledge it?” What makes Rob Ford limitless, the truest source of his power, is that he doesn’t fear your judgment. On the contrary, he’s at his mightiest when he’s being judge

Next up, Neil Steinberg, describing Emanuel at a Walmart Neighborhood Market in a gritty, poor part of Chicago.

An outsider witnessing this recent Saturday in the life of Rahm Emanuel might assume it is election time and he is campaigning. Only there is no campaign. The next Chicago mayoral election is February 24, 2015. He could stay hidden in City Hall, working the levers of power, and let his money—he’s already raised more than $5 million for the 2015 election—do his runny-nose wiping. But he doesn’t. Either because he loves people—his explanation—or because his disapproval numbers have never been higher, especially among black voters. He works seven days a week, a dawn-to-dusk whirling dervish, spinning like the dancer he once was, to assault the city’s problems. The gun-violence epidemic that has earned Chicago the top spot on the FBI’s murder rankings and headlines such as “the murder capital of America”; the ticking pension time bomb that could blow the whole place to kingdom come (or, worse, Detroit); the perpetually broken four-hundred-thousand-student school system in which more kids are shot each year than enter Ivy League universities, a funnel of failure in which, for every one hundred freshmen entering high school, six graduate from college: All come together in a veritable firestorm, one woe feeding the other, and his worst critics can’t say he isn’t trying to live up to LBJ’s famous dictum to do everything—everything possible—to succeed, though as recently as Christmas, Chicagoans thought less of Rahm Emanuel, clean-living fitness buff, beavering away at Chicago’s forest of woes, than the citizens in Toronto thought of their crack-cocaine-smoking mayor.

Photo of Rob Ford: Finn O’Hara

Photo of Rahm Emanuel: Ackerman + Gruber


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